SH//FT, Sexism, and the Burden of Responsibility

April 11, 2016

11:56 am

Even despite a growing number of awareness campaigns and activist initiatives to state otherwise, sexism remains a huge problem. And the fact that it keeps re-assuming its position within different aspects of our society proves that it’s not just a “woman’s problem” – it’s a problem that affects everyone.

SH//FT, a non-profit that focuses on creating opportunities for women and underrepresented groups within the growing virtual reality field, took to social media to announce their launch and mission. In less than a day, male users on Facebook and reddit proclaimed their large dislike of this startup and what they stand for, mostly assuming that “gender equality is a myth”.

We already know that discrimination is rife across digital fields – often with indifference and assumed hegemony at the cusp of the difficulties underrepresented groups feel when they try to carve a space for themselves from within tech’s overwhelmingly homogenous landscape. And when statistics prove that only 88 startups are being led by Black women; that less than 20 percent of all startups are led by women; and that the median age for a Silicon Valley VC being capped at early 30s, there can be little doubt that we have a crisis on our hands.

Unfortunately, what happened with SH//FT is all too common. Harassment and trolling are common reactions when women assume a presence online, even when their efforts are being met to improve conditions for everyone, it’s interesting and disheartening that the resistance still carries.

As BoostVC entrepreneur in residence Matt Schlicht writes in his Medium post on the topic:

“Tech, and many other industries, have been male dominated for so long, there are a lot of nuances, traditions, and interactions that are catered for males… These things can make women understandably uncomfortable. It’s not how a welcoming environment is created.

A lot of people don’t seem to understand this. It’s not as simple as women trying harder, it’s about everyone coming to the realization that maybe we aren’t as welcoming towards women as we need to be…Maybe we need to try harder.”

In their initial post, Helen Situ, a member of the SH//FT founding team, writes:

“Women bring a unique perspective. And the inclusion of them has never been more important in a technology where people are creating these incredibly powerful, emotional experiences where you’re shaping worlds.”

And they’re not just stating this in their initiatives. SH//FT’s board of advisors and founding team all span across various genders, ages, and ethnicities. So, what’s the problem here?

The True Solution

Perhaps the problem isn’t the lack of initiatives led by women. When we focus on that, we misguide the burden to rest on the marginalized – instead, we must shift our focus to the toxic, homogenous culture that forces these underrepresented groups to answer to impossible standards. It’s allowing the harassment and inappropriate behavior to discourage change from occurring. It’s allowing the mindset that if the focus doesn’t remain on the toxic culture, then the structure of power will be shifted and this group will be threatened.

And that couldn’t be further from the truth.

To support initiatives like SH//FT means that we support a tech culture that welcomes everyone – whether they come from similar backgrounds to us or not. It means that we move one step closer to creating a tech culture where we can thrive equally and explore ideas that bring out the best in each other, without fear of harassment or discrimination.

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Cameron is a tech and culture journalist, comic book enthusiast, and lives near New York City. A graduate of Stockton University, she's using her words to shift the world of online journalism, one byline at a time. When she's not writing, she can be found reading sci-fi novels, collecting succulents, and planning her next obnoxious hair color. Cameron is an editorial fellow at Tech.Co. Send your tips to cameron@tech.co or tweet @BlkGirlManifest.

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